Colorectal Cancer - Symptoms & Treatment
Colorectal cancer is malignant cells found in the colon or rectum. The colon and the rectum are part of the large intestine, which is part of the digestive system. Because colon cancer and rectal cancers have many features in common, they are sometimes referred to together as colorectal cancer. Cancerous tumors found in the colon or rectum also may spread to other parts of the body.
Incidence of colorectal cancer is highest in developed countries such as the United States and Japan, and lowest in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Colorectal cancer is the second most common visceral neoplasm in the United States and Europe. It's equally distributed between men and women.
Malignant tumors of the colon or rectum are almost always adenocarcinomas. About half of these are sessile lesions of the rectosigmoid area; the rest are polypoid lesions.
Although the exact cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, studies show a greater incidence in areas of higher economic development, suggesting a relationship to a diet that includes excess animal fat, especially from beef, and low fiber.
Other factors that magnify the risk of developing colorectal cancer include diseases of the digestive tract, a history of ulcerative colitis (cancer usually starts in 11 to 17 years), and familial polyposis (cancer almost always develops by age 50).
Signs and Symptoms
The following are the most common symptoms of colorectal cancer. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.
People who have any of the following symptoms should check with their physicians, especially if they are over 50 years old or have a personal or family history of the disease:
The symptoms of colorectal cancer may resemble other conditions, such as infections, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease. It is also possible to have colon cancer and not have any symptoms. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Colorectal cancer screening and diagnosis may involve one or more of a number of procedures:
The most effective treatment for colorectal cancer is surgery to remove the malignant tumor and adjacent tissues, along with any lymph nodes that may contain cancer cells. After surgery, treatment continues with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both.
The type of surgery depends on tumor location:
If metastasis has occurred, or if the patient has residual disease or a recurrent inoperable tumor, he needs chemotherapy. Drugs used in such treatment commonly include fluorouracil combined with levamisole or leucovorin. Researchers are evaluating the effectiveness of fluorouracil with recombinant interferon alfa-2a.
Radiation therapy, used before or after surgery, induces tumor regression.
Recent research suggests that a high fiber, low-fat diet plays a role in prevention; how great a role it plays is unclear. Fiber helps to move waste through the colon and may even protect cells in the lining of the colon from developing into polyps. A good rule of thumb is that the average adult should consume at least 25 - 35 grams of fiber daily. This amount can be obtained by eating five half-cup servings of fruits and vegetables every day. For adults, adding a soluble fiber supplement is an easy and practical way to obtain the recommended daily intake of fiber.
Staying active and drinking at least 8 eight-ounce glasses of non-caffeinated fluid daily also is good for digestive health.
By following the recommended screening methods, many polyps and growths can be detected early. Finding and removing colorectal polyps with sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy clearly reduces the risk of their development into cancers.
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